Thursday, January 30, 2014

Speed Camera Repeal Bill Introduced in the House

A bill which would repeal the use of speed cameras in the state of Maryland has been introduced into the House of Delegates.

The Bill, designated as House Bill 551, is sponsored by Delegate Mike Smigiel (R, Kent, Queen Anne's, Cecil, and Caroline Counties).  The co-sponsors of the bill are:
Kathy Afzali (Frederick County) Susan K. McComas(Harford County)
Steven J. Arentz (Kent, Queen Anne's, Cecil, and Caroline Counties) Tony McConkey(Anne Arundel County)
Gail H. Bates(Howard County) Michael A. McDermott(Wicomico and Worcester Counties)
Wendell R. Beitzel (Allegany and Garrett Counties) Wayne Norman(Harford County)
John W. E. Cluster, Jr.(Baltimore County) Anthony J. O'Donnell(St. Mary's and Calvert Counties)
Adelaide C. Eckardt (Caroline, Dorchester, Talbot, and Wicomico Counties) Nathaniel T. Oaks(Baltimore City)
Mark N. Fisher(Calvert County) Charles J. Otto(Somerset and Wicomico Counties
William Frank (Baltimore County) Steven R. Schuh(Anne Arundel County)
Patrick N. Hogan (Frederick County) Kelly Schulz(Frederick County
Jay A. Jacobs (Kent, Queen Anne's, Cecil, and Caroline Counties) Nancy R. Stocksdale(Carroll County
Susan W. Krebs(Carroll County) Cathy Vitale(Anne Arundel County)

The bill comes amid new concerns about a secret audit of Baltimore City's former speed camera program, which revealed that cameras run by the city's former contractor, Xerox Corp, may have had error rates as high as ten percent and resulted in as many as seventy thousand wrongful tickets in one year (the equivalent of $2.8 million in ticket fines).  Errors by Baltimore City's program included tickets given to stationary cars and to trucks which videos show were traveling only half the speed they were accused of.  Such errors occurred even though the devices passed all their calibration tests, which authorities had continually assured the public would guarantee accuracy.

In addition, there have been recent accusations of errors in other parts of the state such as Morningside , Montgomery County, and in Wicomico County (where 17 employees of a local school accused a nearby speed camera of issuing erroneous citations).  In addition, some local governments have attempted to block access to information about their programs and held secret meetings which the public and press were not allowed to observe.

Another bill (labeled HB 526 and sponsored by delegates Smigiel, Afzali, Anderson, Arentz, Bates, Cluster, Conaway, Frank, Hogan, Jacobs, Krebs, McComas, McConkey, McDermott, Norman, O'Donnell, Oaks, Otto, Schulz, Stocksdale, and Vitale), seeks to address the issue of erroneous tickets by requiring each camera to capture a video image (similar to videos currently captured by red light cameras).  It was the videos captured by Baltimore City's speed cameras which irrefutably proved that speed measurement errors had been occurring in Baltimore City, particularly videos of stationary cars which had been cited for "speeding" while completely stopped at red lights.  The text of HB 526 can be read here.

Delegate Jon Cardin (D, Baltimore County) has sponsored a bill designated at House Bill 57 which seeks to address speed camera errors by requiring citation images to contain enough evidence to verify speed from the images.  Cardin's bill would also impose a fine on contractors who issue wrongful tickets, and would end the practice of paying contractors base on the number of citations.  You can read the text of Cardin's bill here.  “Last year, when we thought error  rates were in the single digits, the citizens of Maryland rightfully responded with outrage at being ripped off” Delegate Cardin said in a statement quoted by the Baltimore Sun, “Now that we know error rates in Baltimore City were actually over 10%, it is time to seriously evaluate the future of these programs statewide. Until we can audit each program and have the ability to hold jurisdictions and speed camera operators accountable, I think we should suspend the use of speed cameras entirely.

Versions of all three of these bills were previously submitted to the House last year, but the House Environmental Matters Committee (chaired by Del Maggie McIntosh - D, Baltimore City) refused to allow any of them to go to the House floor for a vote.  Instead the committee dumped a weak "reform" bill sponsored by committee Vice Chair James Malone (D, Baltimore and Howard Counties) onto the house floor at the very end of the session.  Malone's bill appeared to have been created for the primary purpose of answering the question "how do we do a better job of public relations" while not offending any local governments which used speed cameras.  It did not incorporate the ideas in the other bills for preventing errors or done anything to identify speed measurement errors of the sort which occurred in Baltimore City.

However when Malone's bill came to the floor in the House last year, Delegate Smigiel introduced repeal as an amendment.  The House Voted down that amendment.
The Following Maryland State Delegates Voted to Keep Maryland's Broken Speed Cameras Last Year:
Speaker BuschDeBoyHolmesMiller, A.Stein
BarveGainesJamesonNathan-PulliamTurner, F.
BeidleGilchristKaiserNiemannTurner, V.
BoboGlennKelly, A.Pena-MelnykValderrama
CarrHammenLoveRobinson, B.Waldstreicher
ClippingerHarperLuedtkeRobinson, S.Washington, A.
ConawayHaynesMaloneRosenbergWashington, M.

Any speed camera bill introduced into the House will first need to pass the House Environmental Matters Committee to come to a vote in the full house.